I first heard about the concept of a “Third Place” thanks to the mothership of coffee establishments, Starbucks. It’s the idea that it’s not home, it’s not work, it’s your third place.
The idea of feeling truly comfortable in a space that isn’t work or home is surprisingly rare. When I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, for college, I camped out in my dorm room to tackle homework, or ventured into the lounge if I was feeling bold. I’m not sure what implored me to check out a new coffee shop one sweltering Saturday afternoon (Street Coffee, on 7th Street in Downtown Phoenix), but that decision prompted years of hours-long cafe sessions, camped out at a table highlighting in a textbook, long overdue chats with friends, and spending too much money on lattes and pastries. (The iced Garfield Latte at Street Coffee remains my favorite beverage to this day.)
I grew up in Utah where I grabbed the occasional frappuccino from Starbucks on my way to school, feeling oh-so-sophisticated slurping that blended java chip goodness from that green straw in homeroom. But it wasn’t until college that I truly discovered the joy of coffee shops, and fortunately the urban area I lived in was lousy with ‘em. I hit up my personal trifecta on the regular (Fillmore, Songbird and Jobot). If a new one opened, you better believe I was there within the first few days to see how their iced vanilla latte measured up to others and to assess the ~vibes.~
In the walls of these shops, perched at wide tables or tall counters, I studied for finals, I sipped lattes and I scrolled through Instagram. I completed the applications that determined the course of my career. I chatted with my favorite baristas. I met up with friends both old and new. I sat. I recharged. I just existed. I felt at home while away from home.
When I moved back to Utah several months ago, I vowed to look at my hometown with new eyes and approach it how I did Phoenix, finding local spots I had never noticed but were right under my nose. Seek out the coffee shops, more spaces that felt like homes away from home. Turns out, there are more than you’d think. Much more.
I’m not a coffee expert. I still consider Starbucks my go-to and never consider “basic” an insult. (My go-to, an iced skinny vanilla latte, never fails to taste like airports and birthdays and other settings where that drink is firmly in my hand, always the same and always like home.) I still don’t know how to pronounce “cafe au lait.” I think nitro cold brew is gross. I like sugary syrups and whole milk and I cannot lie. I will drop close to $7 on a latte if it has fun flavors or a cute name (bonus points for a pun).
As I write this, I’m sitting in my favorite local coffee shop, which I’ll write about at some point. There are people old and young. There are dogs. There are couples and there are people who are alone. There’s a group of older men playing chess, who greeted each other with boisterous hellos when they came in. There’s a quaint lady working on a puzzle (I also just saw a glimpse into my future). There are people drinking cold and hot beverages, and there are people sitting on the patio, despite it being 32 degrees outside and snow blanketing the ground under their seats. But we all have one thing in common: The idea that there was one place we wanted to be on this weekend afternoon.
I want to document my favorite shops and drinks, have a place to review new ones that pop up, and share my love of coffee shops. I’m focusing on ones in Salt Lake City, but will likely feature my Phoenix favorites that started my obsession in the first place. And I hope that you can also find your homes away from home.
Lots of love and lattes,